“Wouldn’t last that long,” says the former NBA star with a coy smile, as he stretches out his 6-6 frame on a leather chair. “They wouldn’t get that far, because we had a great defensive team.”
From 1996-98, the Bulls won three NBA championships, and six in eight years between ’91 and ’98.
For three of those years, Harper was a starting guard in Chicago, sharing the backcourt with Michael Jordan.
But the Bulls were more than Jordan, even if he’s the best to ever play the game. There was all-world Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley and Steve Kerr off the bench, and, of course, the flamboyant rebounding whiz, Dennis Rodman.
“Not saying that Golden State is not a good defensive team, but we had more guys who could play on the other side of the ball,” Harper said. “Scottie Pippen could defend against anyone. You had Rodman, MJ, myself.
“We had a great defensive team.”
Through the ’90s, Jordan, Pippen and Rodman were regular members of the NBA first-team all-defensive squad.
Harper was in town over the weekend, to lend his name to the NBA Campus Pass event held at Memorial University Saturday, offering basketball fans both young and old a chance to participate in fun on-court challenges.
“If you’re going to shoot threes against us,” Harper continued, referring to the Bulls, “and if you miss 10 threes, we’re going to get the ball and go down and score eight times out of 10.
“But we’re not going to stand up there and shoot threes all night. That wasn’t our way of playing basketball.”
Of course, Harper is alluding to the Warriors, and their record-breaking three-point shooting performances in Oakland.
Golden State is the face of today’s new NBA, bringing the ball up the court, pulling up at the arc and letting it fly for three.
“It’s not my thing, but, hey, it works,” he said. “Golden State has a team that can shoot the basketball — Steph Curry, Klay (Thompson), (Kevin) Durant.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to have a team like that team, three guys who can flat out shoot the basketball.”
Harper spent five seasons in Chicago, before closing out his career in Los Angeles, winning another two championships on Lakers teams led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
He broke into the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers after the Cavs made him the eighth overall pick in 1986. That squad, he said, with Mark Price, Brad Daugherty and John ‘Hot Rod’ Williams was the closest group of players he ever played with.
“We had a real family setting,” he said.
But it was the Bulls teams of the ’90s, he’s quick to admit, that were the best.
It was a group of different personalities, from the quiet superstar in Pippen, to the mercurial Rodman, to Kukoc, who hailed from Croatia.
And then there was the Pied Piper, Jordan.
“He had no fear,” Harper said of the athlete some consider the best of any sport. “Like they say, if you don’t ever fail at something that you’re good at, you don’t know what fear is. MJ had no fear. He’d try anything, and wouldn’t stop until he was the best at it.
“We had a lot of personalities,” Harper continued. “Coach Phil (Jackson) was a guy who didn’t ask us to conform to fit one way. Every guy had his own personality and we did our own thing.
“We meshed because we loved to play basketball. That’s the thing. You can have 12 guys who have different personalities, but if they come to the gym and love what they do, it’s fine. We loved basketball, and we wanted to be the best team.”
The Lakers read from the same playbook, even if Bryant and O’Neal had the well-documented personal rivalry.
“But they both respected each other, and they both knew they needed each other to get to the accomplishment, which was a championship,” Harper said.
“When we played, we played as a basketball team. We all knew Shaq was the best big man, and that Kobe was the best closer. We just played with that in mind.”
Ron Harper at a glance
· After a college career at the University of Miami-Ohio, Harper, now 53, was drafted eighth overall in 1986 by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
· After starting all 82 games and averaging 22.9 points per game, he placed second to Indiana’s Chuck Person in NBA rookie of the year voting.
· Harper and Cleveland teammates Brad Daugherty and ‘Hot Rod’ Williams were named to the NBA’s all-rookie team.
· Harper spent three full seasons in Cleveland, and five in the L.A. with the Clippers. He signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Bulls in 1994, and spent five years in the Windy City.
· In 1999, he signed a two-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he closed out his career.
· Harper spent 15 seasons in the NBA, averaging 13.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists. He won five NBA titles — three with the Bulls and two with the Lakers.
· According to his website, he’s one of only three NBA players to win consecutive championships on two different teams.
· Harper’s son, Ron Jr., has committed to the Rutgers University basketball team in New Jersey, where the family resides.